The look of influential women has never been so varied, so natural and so liberated. The female leaders on this gallery have changed the landscape in every arena, accountable for untold billions as well as countless dreams. Does this mark a new era for women of achievement?
When Oprah Winfrey arrived on the set of Lee Daniels’ The Butler, in which she was cast in the role of the butler’s wife, she made her presence known by proclaiming to everyone within earshot, “I’m he-eeeere.” It’s been 30 years since Winfrey first appeared on Chicago television, where daily she kicked off her shoes and pulled up her chair into homes across the heartland, one of the few African-American television personalities to win a massive mainstream following of unquestioning loyalty. Trained on twin stars of equality and empathy, Winfrey built a billion-dollar media empire that’s made her a major player in the culture of the country and the turning of the world. Hers was a winning style, something akin to Sir Lancelot’s cheerful song “C’est moi”: “Impossible deeds should be his [HER!] daily fare. / But where in the world / Is there in the world / A man [WOMAN!] so extraordinaire?”
There have been many extraordinary women through the centuries, but in this new millennium the scale on which they are achieving is something quite different. Like Winfrey, Melinda Gates, Christine Lagarde, Mary Barra, Marissa Mayer, and Sheryl Sandberg are at the top of the power grid, accountable for untold billions of dollars. In her No. 1 best-seller, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sandberg exhorts all women to stand out in the structure, to proclaim, professionally, “I’m he-eeeere.” Certainly, the spirit of female achievement is more liberated today. Hillary Clinton, who first attained her high profile as attorney Hillary Rodham (then as the wife of a president, then as senator, then as secretary of state), has become a force more fascinating than her husband. And architect Zaha Hadid seems to have taken the glass ceiling, melted it down, and refashioned it as a Brave New World of biomorphic waves and swells, mother ships into the future. Serena Williams unleashes her will to win with an almost symphonic range of rumbling bass notes and eloquence in the strings. And then there is the philosophical brilliance harnessed to academia (Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust), government (Senator Elizabeth Warren), diplomacy (America’s U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power), and the law (Justice Sonia Sotomayor and California attorney general Kamala Harris)—as well as the kind of dark cinematic visions that women aren’t supposed to have (filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow). Meanwhile, let’s bend the knee to the quiet bravura of Jane Goodall and Alice Waters, who have been leading by example for decades, and are, my dear, still he-eeeere.
The varied, natural new look of female power
The look of influential women has never been so varied, so natural and so liberated. The female leaders on this gallery have changed the landscape in every arena, accountable for untold billions as well as countless dreams.